How Many Windshield Wipers Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

One thing I like about programming windshield wipers into workouts is that this ab exercise can help strengthen your obliques if you perform it properly.

But, how many windshield wipers should you do based on your fitness level? What muscles do windshield wipers crunches work?

In this guide, we will discuss how to perform windshield wipers, their benefits, the muscles worked, how to modify windshield wipers to add variety to your ab workout routine, and ultimately answer your question, how many windshield wipers should I do in my training sessions?

Let’s jump in!

People doing windshield wipers exercise.

How Do You Do Windshield Wipers?

Before we look at how many windshield wipers you should do to strengthen your abs, let’s look at how to perform the windshield wiper exercise in core workouts.

There are several variations of toe touches that you can do in ab workouts, but the basic windshield wiper exercise involves lying on your back with your legs up in the air and then dropping your legs to each side of your body, back and forth.

Here are the steps for how to do windshield wipers:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs flat on the floor and your arms at your sides. For added difficulty, you can also cross your arms across your chest.
  2. Keeping your legs together and knees straight, use your abs to bring your legs straight up into the air so that your body is in an L shape and your legs are perpendicular to the floor with your feet pointing towards the ceiling. Your arms stay fixed in place.
  3. Keeping your legs glued together as a unit and your knees straight, lower your legs towards the floor on the right side of your body. 
  4. Keep your upper back, shoulders, head, and neck neutral and fixed to the floor. Engage your abs to try and press your lower back into the floor.
  5. Bring your legs as far as possible down to the right side, keeping your hips flexed to 90 degrees and your knees straight.
  6. Hover, but don’t touch the floor.
  7. Use your obliques to lift your legs back up to the top position and then lower to the left side of the body.
  8. Keep alternating dropping your legs to the right and left side, moving in a slow and controlled manner.

Variations of Windshield Wipers

There are not many variations of windshield wipers.

Beginners can modify this exercise to make it less difficult by only dropping the legs a few inches to either side rather than nearly down to the floor.

To progress with windshield wiper workouts, you can wear ankle weights or use a cable machine for added resistance.

Another way to make this exercise more difficult is to hold dumbbells or a medicine ball up straight into the air and raise and lower the weight above your head with your arms straight as you perform the windshield wipers. 

This will activate your upper abs.

Another similar ab exercise to windshield wipers is hanging oblique leg raises. This is a very difficult progression because you have to work against gravity while stabilizing your body in space.

Hanging oblique leg raises also increase grip strength and upper back and shoulder strength.

Here are the steps:

  1. Grab onto a pull-up bar or the bar at the top of a squat rack with your palms facing forward away from your body.
  2. Hang in the fully extended position, holding your upper body and torso as stationary as possible.
  3. Draw your legs up as a unit towards your chest, angling them towards your right shoulder rather than straight up. Keep your knees straight so that your legs are coming up into a pike position, not a tuck. Make sure to only use your abs to lift your legs. Do not swing your body or use momentum to help you.
  4. Hold your legs up for 2–3 seconds and then slowly lower your legs back down to neutral.
  5. Then, lift your legs up towards the left shoulder, folding at the waist to at least a 90-degree angle.
  6. Continue alternating sides, completing 10-20 lifts with each leg.
A person hanging from a pull-up bar.

What Are the Benefits of Windshield Wipers Workouts?

A strong core not only makes you a better runner and improves athletic performance in general, but also protects your back, supports efficient movements1Sasaki, S., Tsuda, E., Yamamoto, Y., Maeda, S., Kimura, Y., Fujita, Y., & Ishibashi, Y. (2019). Core-Muscle Training and Neuromuscular Control of the Lower Limb and Trunk. Journal of Athletic Training54(9), 959–969., and helps maintain your posture.

However, most core workouts focus primarily on strengthening the core in the flexion and extension directions.

While this is certainly an important component of having a strong core, in order to effectively optimize the functional strength of your core muscles, you need to train the core to not only permit—but also restrict and stabilize against—lateral flexion (side bending) and rotation.

One of the benefits of windshield wipers is that this ab exercise is a functional core exercise because it trains your abs to work together across several planes of motion, which replicates real-life applications.

This ab exercise incorporates some transverse plane motion, frontal plane motion, and sagittal plane motion.

The muscles worked by windshield are primarily the abs—which include the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and transversus abdominis—but also the hip flexors.

The core motions discussed above (lateral flexion and rotation) are primarily controlled and supported by the obliques2 Oliva-Lozano, J. M., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(12), 4306., the abdominal muscles that run along the sides of your torso.

This is where the windshield wiper ab exercise really shines.

Windshield wipers primarily target the obliques due to the need to raise and lower (with control) the weight of your legs to either side of your hips rather than straight up and down like standard leg lifts or flutter kicks.

A person setting up to do windshield wipers.

How Many Windshield Wipers Should I Do?

As with any strength training exercise, the number of windshield wipers you should do depends on your fitness level, training goals, and the other workouts and exercises you are performing for the muscles worked by windshield wipers.

There is a common misconception that you should train your abs every day, but like other muscle groups, your abs need time to rest and recover in between ab workouts if you are trying to increase strength or build muscle.

Because the windshield wiper exercise is a bodyweight ab exercise, this move is typically performed with the goal of increasing muscular endurance, meaning you do more reps and sets of windshield wipers than with a strictly strength-based weightlifting exercise.

That said, beginners can increase strength with fewer reps of windshield wipers and may use this exercise for building strength vs muscle endurance.

If you are an advanced athlete using ankle weights with windshield wipers, you might want to perform fewer reps with the goal of building strength rather than increasing muscular endurance.

Here are a couple of guidelines for how many windshield wipers you should do:

Note that with any of these recommendations, you should stop if you feel that you are using momentum rather than your abs.

A person doing a sit up.

How Many Windshield Wipers Should Beginners Do?

For beginners, a good starting place is two sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Build up to three sets of 10 to 20 reps. 

Take at least 60 seconds of rest in between each set.

How Many Windshield Wipers Should I Do to Build Strength?

If you are advanced and have strong abdominal muscles, you might need to wear ankle weights for windshield wipers to add resistance.

If you have access to a cable machine, you can also use the ankle cuffs and perform supine cable machine windshield wipers.

Perform 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps to build strength and muscle. 

It’s better to add more weight and perform fewer reps per set to increase ab strength and build muscle.

However, make sure you can safely handle the weight and you’re not straining your hip flexors, back, and obliques.

Make sure to move slowly and focus particularly on slowing down the eccentric portion3Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(9), 2599–2608. your legs).

People with their legs in the air.

How Many Windshield Wipers Should I Do to Build Muscle Endurance?

To build muscle endurance, you need to do longer sets of windshield wipers as long as you can maintain proper form.

Try going for time instead of reps, beginning with three sets of 30 seconds and building up to 60 seconds per set.

Reduce the rest to 30 seconds in between sets.

For more great workout ideas, check out some stability ball exercises here.

A sit up with a stability ball.


Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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